Story for Thursday’s print edition.
In the summer of 2011, when the specter of conference realignment threatened to rearrange the landscape of college athletics, the ACC seemed caught in the middle of the maelstrom.
A year and a few months later, the conference has stabilized itself in a manner that would have appeared improbable at the time. Its latest and most deft maneuver brought Notre Dame into the fold Wednesday. Perhaps the most recognized name in college athletics, the Fighting Irish will join the league in every sport but football and men’s ice hockey and will play five football games each year against ACC opponents.
“It’s a huge day for the league,” Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich said. “For anyone who thought the ACC was not relevant any longer, I think this kind of puts us back into (the picture). There are five major conferences and we’re one of them. It solidifies our seat at the table.”
A year after expanding to 14 with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the league may have completed its realignment maneuvers by adding Notre Dame as its 15th member. At a news conference in Chapel Hill, N.C., commissioner John Swofford called the addition of a 16th school “illogical,” as it would unbalance the league’s two football divisions with 15 teams. Swofford began serious talks with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick after the formation of a four-team football playoff left the Fighting Irish with decreased access to the top bowl games.
“It was just the time to take a look at what our future held,” Swarbrick said.
Notre Dame will be eligible for the ACC’s contracted bowls and share in bowl revenue for all non-BCS bowls while remaining an independent for BCS bowl games. It won’t be eligible to win the ACC or represent the league in the Orange Bowl.
While Notre Dame will retain its contract with NBC for its home games, the ACC will have the broadcast rights for the games hosted by conference teams, two one year and three the next. With the added inventory of games, the conference will re-open negotiations with television partner ESPN. Adding Notre Dame, with its rabid following and national brand, to its bowl lineup will also likely improve the conference’s appeal to bowl games, meaning higher-profile games and increased payouts. Swofford called it a win-win.
“I think John is the consummate professional as it relates to understanding what’s important to you and what’s important to you and then trying to create that middle ground to make the deal,” Radakovich said.
No timetable was set Wednesday for the transition from the Big East. Swarbrick said his goal is to begin playing the five ACC games in 2014. The tentative plan calls for the Fighting Irish to play each team every three years, alternating home and away. That would mean Tech’s first game against Notre Dame would be no later than 2016. The 2015-16 school year would be the latest that Notre Dame would begin play as an ACC member in sports besides football and ice hockey.
Tech’s 34-game series with the Irish dates back to 1922, a longer history among present or future ACC members than all but Pittsburgh and Syracuse and a greater number of games than all but Pittsburgh. The Irish own a 27-6-1 series lead, though the Yellow Jackets won the last meeting, a 33-3 win in 2007 in South Bend, Ind.
“Clearly, Notre Dame’s a program that’s steeped in tradition and rich in their history,” coach Paul Johnson said. “They’ve been a marquee national team, so hopefully it’ll add something to this league when they come in.”
From a men’s basketball standpoint, a fierce league will grow more teeth. Notre Dame has made the NCAA tournament five of the past six years and has been no worse than a No. 7 seed in that time. Pitt has made 10 of the past 11 NCAA tournaments. Syracuse has reached the Sweet 16 three of the past four seasons.
Tech basketball coach Brian Gregory said the Irish solidified the ACC “as the best and deepest basketball conference in the country.”
Gregory also noted that the addition opens the market of nearby Chicago. The conference that was founded in 1953 with seven schools located in four contiguous states – Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina – will now extend to central New York, Indiana and south Florida. The league will have almost as many former Big East members, six, as charter members.
The schools are now bound together by a $50 million exit fee, Notre Dame included, up from the $20 million sum agreed upon last fall. The ACC had to break with its tradition of “all or nothing” membership, but Swofford quoted Clemson president Jim Barker on that matter.
“You know, what was best 20 years ago isn’t necessarily best in today’s world,” he said.
Wednesday would be testament to that.
Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog